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Operation Protective Edge

Kerry Plan Weirdly Empowers Qatar & Turkey while Undercutting Israel and Arab Allies

July 27th 2014

Hamas Terrorists

Friday night, the Israeli security cabinet unanimously rejected the latest ceasefire proposed by Secretary of State John Kerry. Bizarrely, it is emerging that Kerry’s plan comes in the wake of apparent efforts to appease Hamas’ biggest financial backer, Qatar–which has also been bankrolling some of the most problematic anti-Western elements in the region such as ISIS and the Muslim Brotherhood–as well as Turkey, which has been openly supportive of Hamas’ terror regime and has been viciously attacking Israeli efforts to defend itself.

Qatar, it should be noted, has been host to a number of leading terror luminaries, including Hamas leader Haled Mashal as well as Muslim Brotherhood cleric Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, who has called for increased ritual circumcision of Muslim girls, and described the Holocaust as Allah’s way of punishing the Jews. Read more ..


Thailand on Edge

Thailand's Junta Moving Further Away From Democratic Rule

July 26th 2014

Thai Coup

Critics of Thailand's new interim charter are saying it does just the opposite of what the military claims: paving the way for a return to democratic civil rule. Further reaction to the temporary constitution, which was issued this week.

A former cabinet minister, considered a fugitive by Thailand's military leaders, is calling the country's new interim constitution one of the most repressive decrees yet from the junta.

New Interim contstitution
Jakrapob Penkair, among those who has set up in exile the Organization of Free Thais for Human Rights and Democracy (FT-HD), spoke to VOA via Skype from an undisclosed location outside Thailand.   “This military regime puts itself in the constitution above the whole system," he said. "Even if you have the national assembly elected or appointed or you have a government elected or appointed, the final say would be them, would be the military regime.” Read more ..


The Edge of Medical

Biopiracy Emerges The New Plague of the Developing World

July 26th 2014

Medical bag

Developed nations have a long history of exploiting indigenous populations for their own personal benefit. Whereas the ill treatment was once centered on acquiring land and natural resources, the latest developments suggest a new form of abuse: biopiracy. News of the exploitation of an Ecuadorian indigenous group at the hands of a coalition of American-based organizations has recently come to light. Though the intricate details have yet to be fully divulged, it was discovered that U.S.-based Coriell Medical Institute and Harvard University colluded with oil-drilling company Maxus Energy Corporation in the drawing of thousands of blood samples from the native Huaorani tribe in Ecuador.

The real depravity of this issue lies in the way in which the medical samples were obtained. Fewer than 20 percent of the participants signed an authorization for the procedure, and all were further under the impression that their blood was being extracted to conduct personal medical examinations. However, tribe members never received any results. Instead, these DNA samples were sold to medical labs in eight different countries, including the Harvard University Medical School in the United States, generating profits for the Coriell Institute. Read more ..


Iran's Nukes

Washington and Tehran Extend Nuclear Talks, Again

July 25th 2014

Iran Nuclear Equipment centrifuges

The five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany (P5+1) came to another interim agreement with the Islamic Republic of Iran on Friday. Over the next few months the U.S. will give Iran additional access to $2.8 billion in previously frozen oil export revenue in return for concessions on its nuclear capabilities. The conference also agreed on a four-month extension to negotiate a final agreement.

As part of the framework deal, Iran agreed to accelerate the conversion of its 20 percent enriched uranium into 5 percent fuel for its research reactor. Iran also agreed to dilute its stock of 2 percent enriched uranium back to natural levels. In theory, this would slow Iran's ability to reach the most advanced stages of its program and achieve nuclear weapons capability.

Secretary of State John Kerry released a statement stressing the progress made over the last six months following the signing a joint plan of action last year. "The diplomatic effort remains as intense as it is important, and we have come a long way in a short period of time." Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

The Terrorist Threat from America's Southern Border

July 24th 2014

US/Mex Border fence

Rawan Jinan, a 25-year-old Iraqi Christian, says when she received an order on June 18 to leave Mosul within 24 hours, she could not believe her eyes.

The order came in the form of a letter delivered to every Christian home by the Islamic State, formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which rules Iraq's second-largest city. The letter offered the recipients just three choices: to convert to Islam, to begin paying a monthly tax for practicing a religion other than Islam, or to be executed if they remained in Mosul.

Jinan, now in a refugee camp near Irbil, in the Kurdish autonomous region, says she and her husband stared at the paper in amazement. "We were prepared for anything, but we were not expecting to be banished from our city in this manner," she says. "When we first heard Christians should leave the city, we thought this meant that Mosul was about to be targeted by heavy shelling. We did not know they were going to rob us and throw us out."

The couple initially thought the letter was an evacuation, not expulsion, order because they and their two young sons -- one 4 years old, the other 18 months -- had already fled fighting in Mosul once. That was when ISIL captured the city in three days of combat that ended with the rout of the Iraqi Army on June 9.

The Honeymoon's Over

But after that fighting ended, the family returned amid reports that the Islamic State promised to guarantee the safety of all religious minorities in the city, so long as they respected Islamic law.

At first, she says, the militants seemed almost protective. "They welcomed us, and asked us what we needed, asking us to contact them if anyone bothered us."

In return, the city's Christians saw no reason why they would offend the city's fundamentalist new rulers. Christian women had already long been wearing the "abaya," the figure-shrouding outer garment Muslim women wear for modesty outdoors, and both Christian men and women mostly stayed within their own neighborhoods to avoid trouble.

But the honeymoon period, which contrasted starkly with the Islamic State's reputation for cruelty toward religious minorities in areas it occupies in Syria, did not last long. As soon as the militia was firmly in control of Mosul, the mood began to change.

Then, Jinan says, the militants began to enter Christian churches, intimidating priests and making people afraid to go to their places of worship. "They did not only enter the churches," she says. "They also went into the shrine of Prophet Younis [the Old Testament prophet Jonas], which they demolished. They also demolished monasteries."

The reported destruction of the tomb of Jonas was shocking for Mosul's Christians and many mainstream Muslims alike, because he is revered by both faiths. The tomb itself is housed in a mosque built on a site where a church once stood, and the interlayering of faiths around the site had long been a symbol of Mosul's tradition of religious tolerance.

Things soon got worse.

On July 16 and 17, Jinan says, a black painted symbol began appearing on Christian homes. "They began marking Christians' homes with the letter 'N' within a circle and the phrase 'property of the Islamic State.' When we asked why, they said that 'this would ward off anyone coming to loot [your home] because looters will fear that this house belongs to us. You need not be afraid; there's nothing wrong,'" she recalls.

But the Christians were feeling terrorized. The letter N stood for "Nasrani," a term used for Christians in the Koran that refers to Nazareth, the hometown of Jesus Christ. By this time, the Islamic State was also replacing the crosses atop some churches with their own black jihadist flags, as if they had been seized in a holy war. "I saw the flags on the Orthodox Mar [St.] Ephraim Cathedral and the Chaldean Bishop's Seat," Jinan notes.

Driven From Their Homes

When the order with three choices came, Jinan says she and the other several thousand Christians in the city had no trust left in the Islamic State. She personally did not even inquire about the amount of the "jizya," or religious tax, the militants promised would grant Christians immunity. The amount has been variously reported by other refugees as being around $100 monthly.

Instead, Jinan and her husband rushed to get their sons and fled by car to one of the Christian towns to the east of Mosul on the Nineveh plain. From there, they proceeded on to the greater safety of Ayn Kawa, a town just inside the Kurdish autonomous region where they remain today.

The Kurdish autonomous region, which is religiously tolerant and is guarded by its own powerful security forces, puts her beyond the reach of the Islamic State. But Jinan says she and most other refugees lost many of their possessions to the Islamic State's fighters, who shook them down as they fled from Mosul.

The fighters took the money her husband was carrying and searched their luggage thoroughly, stealing clothes and even baby diapers. They also treated their victims with open contempt. "They opened the can of baby milk and poured its contents into the street," she says. "We begged them to give us a bottle of water for the children, to quiet them, but they opened the water bottles and poured out the water in front us."

Now, with Mosul less about 80 kilometers to the west but her former life closed to her, Jinan says she doesn't know what to expect next.

Her options range from waiting for the Iraqi government to retake Mosul -- something she calls unlikely when the Islamic State is at the gates of Baghdad -- to emigrating, something she says she never had to consider before.

Her only certainty is that her family now would not want to return to Mosul even if it could. "No Christian, and I for one, will return to the place where I lived, where I was persecuted, and from which I have been expelled," she says.

Reported from Irbil by RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq correspondent Abdelhamid Zebari. Written by Charles Recknagel in Prague. Translation from Arabic by Ayad al-Gailani. Copyright (c) 2014. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.

- See more at: http://www.mercatornet.com/articles/view/terrified_christians_driven_out_of_mosul#sthash.UGEhb8sl.dpuf

On July 21, Texas Gov. Rick Perry announced he was deploying 1,000 members of the Texas National Guard to the Mexican border to help strengthen border security. The move is the latest in a chain of events involving the emigration of Central Americans that has become heavily publicized -- and politicized.

Clearly, illegal immigration flows are shifting from Arizona and California to Texas. In fiscal year 2013, the Rio Grande Valley Border Patrol sector surpassed Tucson as the leading sector for the number of apprehensions (154,453 in Rio Grande Valley versus 120,939 for Tucson). Also, between fiscal 2011 and 2013 (all Border Patrol data is recorded by fiscal year), the number of "other than Mexicans" -- mostly Central Americans -- apprehended in the Rio Grande Valley sector increased by more than 360 percent, from 20,890 to 96,829. (By comparison, the Tucson sector apprehended 19,847 "other than Mexicans" in 2013. Significantly, minors constituted a large percentage of the "other than Mexicans" apprehended in the Rio Grande Valley in 2013: 21,553 (compared to 9,070 in Tucson sector). Read more ..


Russia on Edge

Can Vladimir Putin Survive the Malaysian Airlines Disaster?

July 23rd 2014

Click to select Image

There is a general view that Vladimir Putin governs the Russian Federation as a dictator, that he has defeated and intimidated his opponents and that he has marshaled a powerful threat to surrounding countries. This is a reasonable view, but perhaps it should be re-evaluated in the context of recent events.

Ukraine and the Bid to Reverse Russia's Decline

Ukraine is, of course, the place to start. The country is vital to Russia as a buffer against the West and as a route for delivering energy to Europe, which is the foundation of the Russian economy. On Jan. 1, Ukraine's president was Viktor Yanukovich, generally regarded as favorably inclined to Russia. Given the complexity of Ukrainian society and politics, it would be unreasonable to say Ukraine under him was merely a Russian puppet. But it is fair to say that under Yanukovich and his supporters, fundamental Russian interests in Ukraine were secure. Read more ..


The Battle for Ukraine

Flight MH17 Fact Sheet: Evidence Increasingly Points To Moscow

July 22nd 2014

Malaysia airlines

Amid mounting circumstantial evidence that Russia-backed separatists caused the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, there also appears to be a concerted effort by Moscow to disseminate its own narrative and perhaps obstruct the investigation on the ground.

Here is a rundown of what we know so far:

The Buk Missile System
There appears to be consensus outside of Russia that the flight, which was carrying 298 people, was downed by a Buk surface-to-air missile. Originally designed by the Soviet Union, the Buk missile system is part of both Moscow and Kyiv's arsenal. Russia has attempted to use this fact to create plausible deniability about its role in the disaster.

But before the downing of MH17, separatists had boasted on several occasions about acquiring the Buk system, which can hit targets as high as 22 kilometers in the air. In a June 29 tweet, the official press account of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic posted a photo of the missile launcher. Read more ..


The Battle for Baghdad

The Islamic Caliphate's Desperate Dream

July 21st 2014

Click to select Image

Abu Bakr al Baghdadi's announcement of the creation of an Islamic Caliphate reveals a sense of hopelessness. His proclamation was strongly ideological, but to usher in this new era of a worldwide caliphate, he had to overturn an entire area: not in Syria, where ISIS will probably be wiped out by Bashar Assad's army, but in Iraq's weak underbelly, the Sunni area where the government did not have a strong army. And there he drew a halt and issued this presumptuous statement.

The very fact they no longer refer to themselves as "ISIS" in which the words "Iraq and Syria" were present, but simply "Islamic State", as if it were a global entity, is ridiculous from the practical point of view. At the same time, it reveals the ideological dimension of the project to restore the caliphate of Baghdad, regarded as the most brilliant period of Islam. Read more ..


The Battle for Iraq

Iraqi Kurds Talk Independence But Move For Stronger Position In Iraq

July 19th 2014

Masoud Barzani

Iraq's Kurdish region appears to be making a determined drive toward independence as Baghdad reels from a Sunni Islamist takeover of much of the country's north.

But with neighboring states and major powers calling for Iraq to remain united, the Kurdish talk could be aimed less at breaking free than at gaining additional territory and rights within the country amid its current crisis.

In recent weeks, Kurdish leader Masud Barzani has kept up a barrage of public statements suggesting the Kurdish regional government (KRG) is now ready to move swiftly toward statehood. He said late last month that Iraq was falling apart and was already effectively partitioned following the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant's (ISIL) seizure of Iraq's second-largest city, Mosul, and drive to the outskirts of Baghdad. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Intra-Islamic Violence And Terrorism: The Impact Of The Proliferation Of Salafi/Wahhabi Ideologies

July 18th 2014

Terrorist Bombing

Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates have done what Pakistan has done to itself: shoot themselves in the proverbial foot by creating militant jihadist “Frankenstein’s monsters” who are now running amok Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the ISI, was responsible for creating the Afghan Taliban. Now, the Taliban have metamorphosed into the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which is carrying out terrorist attacks in Pakistan and challenging the government with gusto.

Some describe it as the Saudi Salafi/Wahhabi progeny “coming home to roost.” The Salafi/Wahhabi ideology has long enjoyed support in many forms from Saudi Arabia, especially in the case of the mujahidin fighting against the Soviets in Afghanistan. Today, we see other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states, like Qatar, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), also joining the game. However, unlike in previous incarnations, the primary targets of today’s Salafi jihadists have become fellow Muslims, especially Shi’a, but even fellow Sunnis are not spared. Anyone can be a victim at the hands of Salafi jihadists.  Read more ..


The Edge of Safety

No Evidence that California Cellphone Ban Decreased Accidents

July 17th 2014

Walking-Cell phone

In a recent study, a researcher at the University of Colorado Boulder found no evidence that a California ban on using hand-held cellphones while driving decreased the number of traffic accidents in the state in the first six months following the ban.

The findings, published in the journal Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice, are surprising given prior research that suggests driving while using a cellphone is risky. For example, past laboratory studies have shown that people who talk on a cellphone while using driving simulators are as impaired as people who are intoxicated.

"If it's really that dangerous, and if even just a fraction of people stop using their phones, we would expect to find some decrease in accidents," said Daniel Kaffine, an associate professor of economics at CU-Boulder and an author of the study. "But we didn't find any statistical evidence of a reduction."

California enacted its ban on hand-held cellphones on July 1, 2008. For the new study, Kaffine and his co-authors—Nicholas Burger of the RAND Corporation and Bob Yu of the Colorado School of Mines—looked at the number of daily accidents in the six months leading up to the law's enactment and compared that to the number of accidents in the six months following the ban. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

The Minority Strategy: A New Path for American Interests in the Middle East

July 14th 2014

Saudi princes

In the Middle East, the Arabs are king, sometimes quite literally. The term "Middle East" is a geographic label, broadly describing an area from the Moroccan shores to the Hindu Kush, but it is often referred to—erroneously—as the "Arab World" because of its politically dominant inhabitants. The advent of Islam was an Arab phenomenon and its holiest sites lie in the doyen of Arab puritanism—Saudi Arabia. Arabic is the region's lingua franca. All but five modern Middle Eastern states have Sunni Arab majorities, Sunni Islam being the dominant religious sect among the Arabs. A Middle Eastern minority is thus, by definition, one that is neither Sunni, nor Arab.

Consequently, ever since it bought out Great Britain as the region's dominant external power after World War II, America's principal diplomatic crusade has been to forge a lasting peace between Israel—the most powerful non-Sunni, non-Arab player in the region—and the Sunni Arabs. Read more ..


The Caliphate

Turkey: Between Iraq and Some Hard Choices

July 14th 2014

Turkish military parade with flags

After supporting the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), an ultra-violent jihadist group which split with its al-Qaida sponsor after its leader was killed in Iraq and moved operations to Syria to fight the Assad regime, Turkey is now faced with dealing with an ISIL at least temporarily triumphant in northern and western Iraq as the result of a lightning offensive earlier in June which saw US-trained Iraqi forces melt away before its advance.

ISIL, whose leader Abu Bakr al-Bagjdadi has just announced the formation of a new Muslim Caliphate with himself as the "Caliph Abdullah", is in turn faced not only with resurgent Shiite Iraqi forces staging a counter-offensive with the help of Iran, Russia and the United States, but also flanked in the north by the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq and the Kurdish area of northeastern Syria; both regions now practically independent. Read more ..


Operation Protective Edge

Israel Holds the Line Against Hamas of Gaza

July 14th 2014

Click to select Image

The current confrontation in Gaza began July 12 after three Israeli teenagers disappeared in the West Bank the month before. Israel announced the disappearance June 13, shortly thereafter placing blame on Hamas for the kidnappings. On June 14, Hamas fired three rockets into the Hof Ashkelon region. This was followed by Israeli attacks on Palestinians in the Jerusalem region. On July 8, the Israelis announced Operation Protective Edge and began calling up reservists. Hamas launched a longer-range rocket at Tel Aviv. Israel then increased its airstrikes against targets in Gaza.

At this point, it would appear that Israel has deployed sufficient force to be ready to conduct an incursion into Gaza. However, Israel has not done so yet. The conflict has consisted of airstrikes and some special operations forces raids by Israel and rocket launches by Hamas against targets in Israel. Read more ..


Food Security

Monsanto Plants Seeds of Injustice in Paraguay

July 13th 2014

Monsanto, the American-based multinational chemical and agricultural biotechnology corporation, is the world’s leading producer of genetically modified (GM) seeds. Monsanto manufactures 90 percent of the world’s supply of GM seeds, and has moved to secure patent rights, further solidifying its monopoly on the product.

Many critics are deeply troubled by Monsanto’s attempts to secure the intellectual property rights to nature’s resources, which the corporation’s critics insist are endowed to all humanity. Monsanto’s efforts showed promise this past January when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld their ownership of genetically engineered seed patents. This decision legitimizes the company’s ability to sue American and Canadian farmers whose fields were unintentionally contaminated with Monsanto materials. The court’s decision is one of many instances in which Monsanto has displayed its sheer political grip—one that is choking the life out of local farmers in the United States, Canada, and Latin America. Read more ..


Geopolitical Edge

Why Moldova Should Matter to the U.S.

July 11th 2014

"NATO's Article 5 offers little protection against Vladimir Putin's Russia," Iulian Fota, Romania's presidential national security adviser, told me on a recent visit to Bucharest. "Article 5 protects Romania and other Eastern European countries against a military invasion. But it does not protect them against subversion," that is, intelligence activities, the running of criminal networks, the buying-up of banks and other strategic assets, and indirect control of media organs to undermine public opinion. Moreover, Article 5 does not protect Eastern Europe against reliance on Russian energy. Read more ..


Broken Government

GOP Should Stop Avoiding Payroll Tax Reform

July 10th 2014

IRS building

A consensus is emerging that reforming the federal tax code must be among the very top priorities of a new agenda focused on restoring growth and opportunity in the United States. This is an achievement in itself. For years, economists debated the merits of broadening the tax base and lowering rates, but that debate is now largely over. Every credible analysis now indicates that a serious tax reform plan would vastly expand the U.S. economy and provide more jobs and higher incomes for U.S. workers. The Joint Tax Committee's analysis of the ambitious individual and corporate tax reform plan introduced by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp confirms the large gains to growth and opportunity that the right kind of reform plan would provide.

The basic direction for reform is therefore clear: a tax system with lower rates, a broader base, fewer distortions in economic activity, and reduced barriers to business formation, job creation, and work. But, although there is broad agreement on the overall direction, there are still on-going debates over some important details--including how to help the middle class. Read more ..


Broken Government

New Bank Leak Shows How Rich Exploit Tax Haven Loopholes

July 9th 2014

Mel Gibson mug shot

The identities of thousands of wealthy offshore clients of a major Channel Isles private bank have been leaked to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.

The individuals include donors to the British government, which has been outspoken against tax havens, and some of the most prominent people in British life.

The ICIJ has exclusively allowed The Guardian newspaper to analyze more than 20,000 of the names, all of whom had dealings with a discreet Jersey, Channel Islands branch of Kleinwort Benson, a famous London firm which specializes in “wealth management.”

In the interests of transparency, ICIJ and The Guardian will publish some of their findings over the coming days, detailing the offshore links of political donors; international celebrities; judges; sportsmen; businessmen; and British aristocrats.

Names range from vacuum cleaner tycoon James Dyson to Hollywood actor Mel Gibson. Today The Guardian identifies party donors who over the years have paid more than £8m to the governing Conservative party.

One of the recipients of donations is Britain’s newly-promoted financial services minister, Andrea Leadsom, who has run into a “Cash for Office” allegation after she told The Guardian she was unaware of the size of large offshore  donations to the Conservatives made by her own  family.

The ICIJ has previously published secret internal records of offshore companies in the British Virgin Islands. ICIJ director, Gerard Ryle, said: “We make this information available not because what we found is illegal but because we think most people would think it unfair. Tax havens allow some people to play by different rules.”  Read more ..


America on Edge

America and the Inevitability of Foreign Entanglements

July 8th 2014

Click to select Image

The Fourth of July weekend gave me time to consider events in Iraq and Ukraine, U.S.-German relations and the Mexican borderland and immigration. I did so in the context of the founding of the United States, asking myself if America has strayed from the founders' intent with regard to foreign policy. Many people note Thomas Jefferson's warning that the United States should pursue "peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations -- entangling alliances with none," taking that as the defining strategy of the founders. I think it is better to say that was the defining wish of the founders but not one that they practiced to extremes.

As we know, U.S. President Barack Obama has said he wants to decrease U.S. entanglements in the world. Ironically, many on the right want to do the same. Read more ..


Broken Government

Obama 'One Step Behind' Illegal Immigrant Surge, says Texas Democrat

July 6th 2014

Obama pensive with flag

The Obama administration has botched its response to the wave of migrants flooding the southern border, a Texas Democrat charged Sunday.

Rep. Henry Cuellar (Texas), a Blue Dog Democrat who represents a border district, said the administration simply failed to anticipate a predictable crisis and remains "one step behind" in addressing it.

"We should have been ready for this surge, the administration should have been ready," Cuellar said on CNN's "State of the Union" program. "With all respect to the administration, they're one step behind. They should have seen this coming a long time ago … because we saw those numbers increasing."

In the month of May, law enforcers apprehended roughly 48,000 migrants along the Texas border alone, 9,700 of them children unaccompanied by an adult, Cuellar said. The wave has overwhelmed the law enforcers, courts, detention centers and healthcare agencies attempting to manage it. Read more ..


The Battle for Iraq

How Iran Could Help Iraq Fight ISIL

July 5th 2014

Iran's Revolutionary Guard

To help Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s government battle militants of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), Iran could potentially offer significant assistance through its powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), which reportedly has been active in Iraq during the past decade, analysts say.

What Can Iran Offer?
Afshon Ostovar, a Middle East analyst with the nonprofit Center for Naval Analyses (CNA), believes Iranian military assistance to Iraq would likely focus on several areas: advising, training, planning and coordination; information and intelligence; and supplying military materiel. "I suspect whatever assistance Iran provides at this time will be limited to these areas and kept mostly behind the scenes," Ostovar says.

Light Footprint
Geneva-based researcher Farzan Sabet says Iran is likely to deny any military involvement in Iraq, even in the face of credible reports. Sabet says Iran's preference for "a light footprint" has been confirmed on a number of occasions since its 1979 Islamic revolution. Read more ..


Broken Business

Giant Corporations, Giant Failures

July 4th 2014

Click to select Image

General Motors recently released the report it commissioned from the huge Jenner & Block law firm. The latter's chairman, Anton Valukas, investigated how and why GM failed - for over 10 years - to recall cars it produced while knowing they had defective ignition switches. The eventual recall of 2.6 million Chevrolet Cobalt cars in February, 2014, followed 13 deaths GM linked to those defective switches (many others were injured, and government officials believe there were more fatalities).

GM's chief executive, Mary Barra, admitted publicly this April what Valukas wrote in his report: GM failed systematically to identify, take responsibility for, and act properly in the face of life-threatening defects in millions of automobiles it sold since 2002. On June 16, 2014, GM recalled an additional 3.16 million defective vehicles across seven of its models. GM's total recalls in North America so far this year exceed 20 million vehicles.

Read more ..

The Caliphate

Understanding the Caliphate of Damascus

July 3rd 2014

Iraq ISIL pistol standoff

The Islamic State, previously known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, has changed its name, but otherwise the militant group remains the same. Over the past weekend, a spokesman for the group announced that it had established a caliphate stretching from Diyala province, Iraq, to Aleppo, Syria. The caliphate is a political institution that the Islamic State claims will govern the global Muslim community. "Iraq" and "Levant" have been dropped from the organization's name to reflect its new status.

The trouble with the announcement is that the Islamic State does not have a caliphate and probably never will. No amount of new monikers will change the fact that geography, political ideology and religious, cultural and ethnic differences will prevent the emergence of a singular polity capable of ruling the greater Middle East.

Read more ..

The Caliphate

The Sunni Ramadan Offensive and the Lessons of Tet

July 1st 2014

US Attack Helicopters

In February 1968, the North Vietnamese Army and the Viet Cong launched a general offensive in Vietnam during Tet, the Vietnamese New Year. From mid-1966 onward, the North Vietnamese had found themselves under increasing pressure from American and South Vietnamese forces. They were far from defeated, but they were weakening and the likelihood of their military victory was receding. The North Vietnamese decided to reverse the course of the war militarily and politically by marshaling available forces, retaining only limited reserves and going on the offensive throughout South Vietnam.

The attack had three strategic purposes. First, the North Vietnamese wanted to trigger a general uprising against the Americans and the South Vietnamese government. Second, they wanted to move the insurgency to the next stage by seizing and holding significant territory and resisting counterattack. And third, they wanted to destabilize their enemy psychologically by demonstrating that intelligence reports indicating their increasing weakness were wrong. They also wanted to impose casualties on the Americans at an unprecedented rate. The American metric in the war was the body count; increasing the body count dramatically would therefore create a crisis of confidence in the U.S. public and within the military and intelligence community. Read more ..


America on Edge

The Real War on Women

June 30th 2014

Brain Waves

In April, the “equal pay debate” was the opening salvo for politicians seeking women voters in the midterms. It set off a firestorm. The claim that women make 77 cents on the dollar compared to men was quickly countered with evidence that the wage gap is primarily driven by choices, not discrimination. Women earn 97 percent of what men earn when they hold the same jobs, work the same hours and have the same qualifications and experience, according to a study by June O’Neill.

But, of course, most women don’t. In this way, both sides missed the bigger issue facing women – why women continue to choose worse jobs with worse pay. Despite women’s astounding progress in the labor force, women are twice as likely as men to work part time. Women represent nearly two-thirds of workers (64 percent) earning the minimum wage or less. In 21st century America, women are disproportionately secretaries, maids, nurses and teachers, while the head honchos in business, finance, law, medicine, academia and government are still mostly men. (Consider that women represent only 4.8 percent of Fortune 1000 CEOs, even though they comprise half of all managerial positions). Read more ..


Broken Economy

How the Narrative About the Financial Crisis Affects Current and Future Housing Policy

June 28th 2014

Home Foreclosure

The narrative that came out of the financial crisis was that it could have been prevented by better regulation. If the regulators had been diligent enough to see the build-up of risk in the mortgage system—the large number of subprime and Alt-A loans—they could have stepped in, closed down the subprime lending process and saved us all a lot of losses. But Wall Street greed and risk-taking were allowed to run wild, causing a financial crisis. This is essentially the conclusion of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission (from which I dissented) and it is the basis for the reforms implemented by the Dodd-Frank Act in 2010. It is also a fantasy.

Yes, of course, if the regulators had been astute enough to see what was happening in the mortgage markets in 2005 and 2006, and understood that this was the beginning of an unprecedented collapse of housing and mortgage values, they could have acted. But with the exception of a handful of market players—like John Paulson—who made lucky speculative bets, no one knew the essential facts about the mortgage market and no one published a predicted decline in housing prices in the range of 30 to 40 percent. I dare say few if any of those who are reading this today can honestly say that they sold off all their housing and mortgage assets in 2005 or 2006 because they could see the disaster coming. Read more ..


War on Drugs

War on Narcoterrorists Sees Some Success in Mexico and Colombia

June 26th 2014

Burning bales of cannabis in Mexico

The Mexican drug war has been punctuated by police success in arresting high-profile narcotics traffickers. Last February, the arrest of elusive figure Joaquin El Chapo (Shorty), head of the powerful Sinaloa Cartel, made international headlines and heightened the morale of both Mexican and U.S. authorities. Nevertheless, for many Mexican citizens, there is significant doubt that El Chapo’s arrest will have a substantial detrimental impact on the operations of the Sinaloa cartel, or on the brimming inventory of other drug traffickers that continue to wreak havoc in Mexico. The organizations have proven to be a force as relentless as the mythological hydra; chop off the head, and two more grow back in its place. Read more ..


Economic Jihad

The Role of Antisemitism in the Presbyterian Church (USA)´s Decision to Support Divestment

June 25th 2014

Wailing Wall in Jerusalem

The Israel Palestine Mission Network (IPMN) of the Presbyterian Church (USA) (PCUSA) is a main advocate within the church on behalf of the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign (BDS), whose goal is to delegitimize the State of Israel leading to that country’s dissolution. The Presbyterian Peace Fellowship is also an advocate for BDS.

Click here to read
the full report
.

Our report produces clear evidence of a strong undercurrent of overt anti-Jewish bigotry within the IPMN as expressed on the group’s Facebook page.

Numerous postings uploaded to this site by IPMN members over a period of two years demonstrate an ongoing pattern of expressions of antisemitism, including: Read more ..


Israel on Edge

Legalists to UN Head Moon: "Retract all Acceptance of PA to the UN"

June 24th 2014

UN HQ NYC

The Legal Forum for Israel, a body representing hundreds of lawyers and jurists from various countries, has sent a letter to UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon last week demanding that he retract all acceptance within the UN of the Palestinian Authority and  reject the Palestinian request to accede to international conventions.

Relating to the abduction of the three boys form Gush Etzion, author of the letter Alan Baker, former legal adviser of Israel’s foreign ministry, former ambassador to Canada and Director of the International Action Division of the Legal Forum for Israel, writes: "We are, first and foremost, at the time of writing this letter, most distressed at the tragic situation in which one or more Palestinian terror groups, affiliated to what you and the UN regard as the “State of Palestine”, considered to be a non-member state observer in the UN, have taken three Israeli youths hostage, in clear violation of all basic humanitarian norms and conventions. Read more ..


Broken Government

A New Strategy for Corporate Tax Reform

June 22nd 2014

Congress-senate

Last Friday, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan proposed to cut the Japanese corporate tax rate from 36 percent to below 30 percent. This is the latest step on a journey that began on April 1st 2012 when the government set in motion a series of rate cuts - from 41 percent to 38 percent to today's 36 percent. In 2013, both major parties in Japan agreed to accelerate the timetable for the cuts. Today Japan may be ready to double down.

Over the last two years, Abe and the rest of the Japanese government have driven their corporate rate from the highest in the developed world towards the average for developed countries, which hovers around 25 percent.

These reforms are taking place despite Japan's crippling public debt and the aftermath of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. Through creative policy-making - Japan has raised its national sales tax from 5 to 8 percent to replace revenue - and an eye towards making Japan a friendlier place for investment, the government has enacted a policy that will almost certainly strengthen Japan's economy. Read more ..


The Battle for Iraq

Jordan Could Be the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant's Next Target

June 19th 2014

King Abdullah

The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, buoyed by its recent successes in Iraq, wants to expand its regional reach. Reports that Iraq has withdrawn forces from western towns close to its 180-kilometer (110-mile) border with Jordan have left Amman feeling vulnerable, and the Hashemite kingdom, certainly a target of interest for the jihadist movement, has deployed additional security personnel along the border.

However, taking on Jordan would be tough for the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant. The group has the ability to stage terrorist attacks in the country, but significant constraints will prevent it from operating on the levels seen in Iraq and Syria.

The June 15 edition of the Jordan Times reported that Amman had beefed up security along its border with Iraq amid fears that the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant is inching toward the kingdom. Quoting unnamed Islamist sources, the report added that the jihadist group had established a branch within the kingdom as part of its plans to create a regional emirate.

Read more ..

The Battle for Damascus

Next Stop for ISIL Jihadis: Jordan

June 19th 2014

The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, buoyed by its recent successes in Iraq, wants to expand its regional reach. Reports that Iraq has withdrawn forces from western towns close to its 180-kilometer (110-mile) border with Jordan have left Amman feeling vulnerable, and the Hashemite kingdom, certainly a target of interest for the jihadist movement, has deployed additional security personnel along the border.

However, taking on Jordan would be tough for the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant. The group has the ability to stage terrorist attacks in the country, but significant constraints will prevent it from operating on the levels seen in Iraq and Syria. Read more ..


The US on Edge

Time to Challenge US Assumptions About Terrorism, Security, and Iraq

June 17th 2014

ISIL militants and flags

The fall of Mosul shocked Iraqis and Americans alike. In less than 48 hours, insurgents seized thousands of square miles of territory, hundreds of millions of dollars, and placed millions of people under their control.  The Iraqi army is in tatters, terrorists are on the march, and Iran is poised to intervene. Clearly, the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq has not brought the peace which the White House promised.

Historians will judge the wisdom of George W. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq and oust Saddam Hussein, but the situation Iraq currently faces was not inevitable. Rather than use the uprising as fodder for partisan mudslinging, the insurgent march through northern Iraq should be cause for reflection about core U.S. assumptions about terrorism, security, and Iraq itself: Read more ..


The Battle for Iraq

ISIS Rampages, the Middle East Shakes

June 16th 2014

Iraqi prisoners of ISIL

The jihadis' takeover of Mosul on June 9 won them control of Iraq's second-largest city, a major haul of weapons, $429 million in gold, and an open path to conquer Tikrit, Samarra, and perhaps the capital city of Baghdad. The Iraqi Kurds have seizedKirkuk. This is the most important event in the Middle East since the Arab upheavals began in 2010. Here's why:

Regional threat: The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), a designated terror group, is in a position to overthrow the governments of Iraq and Syria and perhaps beyond, starting with Jordan. Straddling the Iraq-Syria frontier, it may both erase the nearly century-old border between these two colonial creations and end their existence as unitary states, thereby overturning the Middle Eastern political order as it emerged from World War I. Rightly does the U.S. government call ISIS "a threat to the entire region. Read more ..


Inside Politics

Eric Cantor Was Defeated for Breaking One Old Rule and Two Newer Ones

June 14th 2014

Eric Cantor (R)

It’s not often that something almost universally unexpected happens in American politics. Frequent public opinion polls and a variety of political media usually give political junkies a good idea of what to expect next.

But not Tuesday, when House Majority Leader Eric Cantor was defeated in the Republican primary in the 7th congressional district of Virginia by Randolph-Macon College professor Dave Brat.

Cantor raised more than $5 million in campaign funds, Brat just over $200,000. But much of Cantor’s money was slated for House Republican colleagues, and Brat got vocal support — worth many times the amount he raised in a Republican primary — from talk show hosts Laura Ingraham and Mark Levin and columnist Ann Coulter.

It's tempting to classify this as a victory for the Tea Party movement over the Republican establishment. Cantor entered the race as the No. 2 member of the House Republican leadership, and Brat pursued some Tea Party themes (though without support from major Tea Party organizations), decrying the vast expansion of government not only under President Obama but also in the George W. Bush years.

But those are not the main lessons of this astonishing upset. One of those lessons is very old, an eternal maxim of politics. Another is familiar, a variation on a theme heard before. The third is relatively new, and perhaps points to a winning campaign theme for Republicans — or their opponents. The old lesson is: Show up. Voters like to see their elected representatives, even when they have ascended the ranks of committee and leadership positions in Washington. Read more ..


The Battle for Iraq

Deterioration of Iraq Threatens Security of the Mideast

June 12th 2014

Battles continue to rage across northern Iraq, pitting jihadist group the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant against Iraqi security forces and their allies.

The growing reach of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant has escalated an already brutal campaign in Iraq. Alarmingly quick advances by the militants across an important region of the Middle East could draw in regional powers as well as the United States.

Analysis

Using hit-and-run tactics, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, also known as ISIL, has sought to keep Iraqi security forces dispersed and under pressure. ISIL has achieved this by striking at areas where security forces are weak and withdrawing from areas where Baghdad has concentrated its combat power. Read more ..


The Environment on Edge

We Need a New Compromise to Break the Climate Negotiations Impasse

June 10th 2014

Smokestacks

As one who brings students to observe and report on the United Nations negotiations on climate change and who would like to see those negotiations succeed, it is easy to be discouraged at the snail’s pace of progress. The big promised outcome of “preventing dangerous climate change,” agreed to by 195 countries in the 1992 Framework Convention (UNFCCC), has not been met by any measure 22 years later. In the end, the UNFCCC is the only global group of nations that can make binding commitments to solve this problem.

Still, another approach is clearly needed. In our paper released in Nature Climate Change this week (and first released as a Brookings policy brief), Marco Grasso and I argue that we could take four steps to break the impasse.

1. A much smaller group of nations should strike a deal.  We propose that the “Major Economies Forum” (MEF), which with 13 economies is responsible for 81 percent of all global carbon dioxide emissions since 1990, would be an excellent forum for such negotiation. Other smaller groups like the G-7, G-20 or even the G-2 of the United States and China could make a deal, and by doing so could inspire action by many other countries that are waiting for these two to move. Read more ..


Broken Bookselling

Amazon Losing PR Battle With Hachette

June 9th 2014

Amazon box

The dispute between Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) and publisher Hachette has somehow grown into an epic saga pitting the forces of literary light against the dark lord of the Internet.
 
As if that wasn't bad enough for public relations, comedian Stephen Colbert, host of The Colbert Report on Comedy Central, is leading the army of the literary light. He literally gave the finger to Amazon on his show last week.

This army needs no weapons but words, and it's got a million of them. n purely financial terms, book publishing isn't a major industry, and Amazon diversified out of that niche a long time ago. Doesn't matter.

The controversy began when negotiations between Amazon and Hachette broke down. No one but the principals know why, but the general assumption is that Amazon demanded price concessions from Hachette, and Hachette refused. Read more ..


China on Edge

Without Drastic Changes, China Could Become Japan

June 9th 2014

Pollution Made in China

Front page news concerning Chinese economic weakness and accusations of large-scale cyber-espionage against the U.S. both involve the capacity to innovate. Cyber-stealing other people's knowledge, rather than developing it yourself, helps right away but discourages the innovation at home that can contribute to national wealth for the long term.

Vice-President Biden repeated last week that he believes China doesn't innovate, which is an oversimplification. It is true, though, that China still relies almost entirely on foreign technology. Becoming a truly innovative nation is the key to China eventually becoming a rich one, since its other sources of growth are slipping away. And at the moment, the outlook is dim.

The economy has been weakening and may continue to weaken. Natural resources are inadequate, the population is aging, and the country is starting to sink into debt. China in 2014? Yes, also Japan in 1994. The conclusion many observers drew then was that Japan had to sharply boost innovation to renew economic expansion. Unfortunately, it hasn't happened yet. Read more ..


The New Egypt

Egypt After the Election: Advancing the Strategic Relationship

June 8th 2014

2012 Egyptian Elections

Abdul Fattah al-Sisi's apparent victory in Egypt's presidential election this week marks the beginning of a new chapter for his country, though not necessarily the end of its political and economic turmoil. The past three years have not only left Egypt gripped by domestic troubles and economic malaise, they have also resulted in further deterioration of bilateral relations. Cairo has looked inward, immune to advice or influence, while Washington has looked on in bewilderment. Although American officials continue to describe relations with Egypt as "strategic," they have in fact become transactional, with one side trading its immediate needs for the other's: the United States needs a stable and cooperative Israeli-Egyptian relationship and preferential access to the Suez Canal, while Egypt needs military hardware and international recognition. Paradoxically, Egypt has had the upper hand in the relationship despite its troubles, mainly because it believes it can turn to others to meet its needs in the short run -- Russia for military equipment, the Persian Gulf states for aid, and the international community for validation. Washington, in contrast, has no geopolitical substitute for Egypt. Read more ..



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